Doctoral Teaching Requirement


Success as a Computer Scientist depends not only on the ability to generate and explore new ideas but also on the ability to communicate those ideas effectively. For this reason, all students are required to develop and exercise presentation and teaching skills as part of their doctoral education.  Students are required to fulfill two “teaching units”, ideally approximately the total workload of half-time for one semester, but the actual workload may vary widely.  The two teaching units may be completed during a single semester or spread over multiple semesters, not necessarily consecutive.  All teaching unit assignments must be for courses approved by the department’s Academic Committee as Computer Science courses and occur during regular academic semesters; the teaching units must be completed while enrolled in the doctoral program.

[Note: The teaching requirement does not apply to CVN DES students but does apply to all other DES students as well as PhD students.]


Every doctoral student must complete two (2) teaching units.  There are several options for accumulating teaching units:

1. Serving as an assistant, where the teaching units are assigned by the Instruction Assistants Chair. Further information is available on the IA Chair website.  Assistants for a given course offering may be granted 1/2, 1 or 2 teaching units depending on course enrollment and other factors.
2. Serving as the instructor for a 1-point or 1.5-point course, which counts as one (1) teaching unit.
3. Serving as the instructor for a 3-point or 4-point course, which counts as two (2) teaching units.

Serving as an IA is the default.  All instructor (as opposed to IA) assignments must be approved by the Academic Committee Chair. Both IA and instructor assignments must also be approved by the student’s advisor.

The teaching units must be accumulated via regular academic-year lecture courses offered by the Columbia University Department of Computer Science.  Teaching during summer session or for another Columbia department, for CVN, for the School of Professional Studies, for another institution, or for any other organization or office, does not qualify towards satisfying the teaching requirement.

Teaching units must be acquired while formally enrolled in the doctoral program (MS/PhD, PhD or DES), not while enrolled in any other degree or non-degree program. Most students complete their teaching units during their second or third year in the doctoral program, but there are no timing restrictions on which semesters (prior to MPhil) students can do their teaching units.

We recommend that new PhD students not teach during their first year, unless they have previously taken Columbia courses (e.g., as an undergraduate or MS student).  However, some first year (even first semester) PhD students with no prior Columbia affiliation can and do teach, typically but not necessarily assisting the course their advisor is teaching.


Paid (compensated) work does not count towards the teaching requirement.

However, PhD students may be funded for one semester by the department, either the last semester in which they complete the final unit(s) of the teaching requirement or during a later semester (even though the student may not be teaching during that later semester).  The timing of the departmental funding is determined by the advisor in consultation with the Department Chair and IA Chair, and cannot be requested by the student.

This departmental funding is offered instead of GRA or fellowship funding, not in addition.   The stipend, tuition and fees support is identical to GRAs.

Special arrangements may be made for students funded through internal and external fellowships to fulfill the constraints of their program. Some of these funding sources may require additional teaching beyond the departmental requirement.  However, the doctoral teaching requirement is indeed a requirement, never waived, regardless of funding source, including self-supported or employer-supported students: all doctoral students (other than CVN-DES) must complete at least two teaching units.


After completing the mandatory teaching requirement, students making satisfactory progress, and with advisor approval, may apply for paid (compensated) instruction or instruction assistant (IA) positions when available.  All instruction assignments must be approved by the Academic Committee Chair.  IA assignments are made by the IA Chair. Paid work does not count towards the teaching requirement.


Independent of the doctoral teaching requirement, on-campus graduate students (including terminal MS) may voluntarily apply to serve in some teaching capacity for summer courses. The courses offered and payscale vary from year to year. Note that summer teaching does not count towards satisfying the doctoral teaching requirement. It is not necessary to complete the doctoral teaching requirement prior to summer teaching.


Last updated on July 2, 2023.